enrolling a minor in school / obtaining guardianship of a minor?
April 15, 2015 3:51 AM   Subscribe

Our 15yo niece's living situation is changing, and she is unlikely to be able to continue living where she is. She can move to another location, but the schools there are awful. We've thought about offering to have her live here with us, but are unsure how to enroll her in school without taking over her guardianship. Is there a way?

My 15yo niece has been living with my mom for most of her life - she spent some time with her mom, but most of her early childhood and for the last 4ish years, my mom has had custody/guardianship of her. (The last time my mom got custody of her, it was a real struggle.)

About 18 months ago, my mom moved and enrolled her in a school in a small town. Her living situation out there has changed, and she may no longer afford to be able to stay there (she's on a very limited income, can't work, is applying for SSI but has already been rejected once). My mom could move back to my grandmother's house and stay there, but the schools in that neighborhood are awful (my niece went there for a while, and then switched to online schools, which did not work out).

We would be willing to have my niece move in with us, and take care of her, and enroll her in school over here - however, looking at the information online, either my mom would have to live with us too, being her guardian (no), or we would have to become her guardians. (We're in DeKalb County, but near the better schools.) I've seen the "non-parental affidavit of residence" but we would have to use the "other" option, and I'm not sure if they would accept it.

Am I missing any other options here?

Has anyone gone through this process? I've only heard horror stories of the court/custody process.

Reasons we would not want to take over custody if we didn't have to -
- I do not know where her mother (my sister) is, but I think we could get in touch with her. Moving back in with her mom is not an option for my niece, and I'm afraid if we start a custody/guardianship transfer, my sister may draw things out just to be ornery, and we'd like to streamline this process as much as possible.
- There seem to be a lot of high emotions in my family regarding custody/guardianship, and I don't want to tap into that and make my mom feel like we're trying to take our niece away from her.

We will talk to a lawyer, of course (any recommendations for Atlanta?), but thought I would check with the hivemind and see if anyone had experienced this themselves.
posted by needlegrrl to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When we did this for my cousin, we did not legally change anything. We just showed up and enrolled him in school nobody asked for any paperwork. Can you start by calling the school?
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:04 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Gaining custody may be much easier now that she's older. Kids 14 and over in Georgia can choose which parent they want to live with, and presumably that will apply to a close relative like you. (See the last sentence in this link. )

Kudos to you for being so generous!
posted by mareli at 5:16 AM on April 15, 2015

This page from DeKalb County GA says the following:
"An adult at least 18 years of age or an emancipated minor at least sixteen years of age residing within the boundaries of DCSD, who is not the parent or guardian of a child, but assumes the duties and responsibilities of a parent and has authority to enroll the child in a publicly-funded Georgia school."

I would think that so long as you live in the school district and the child lives with you it should not be a problem.
posted by zennie at 5:26 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I were in your shoes, I'd have her medical records sent to a local doctor and get her a check-up there now, establishing her as a patient in a local practice. Paperwork that indicates her residence with you can only help when you go to the school and speak with the attendance secretaries/administrators who always manage the transfer processes. (If you haven't yet enrolled a child in a public school, they will definitely ask for *your* proof of residence within the district, such as a lease or mortgage bill and a utilities bill. Perhaps bringing along extra paperwork that shows the niece's proof of residence will expedite your experience.)
posted by third rail at 5:51 AM on April 15, 2015

Similarly to what Third Rail suggests, get her a library card with your address if you can.
posted by carmicha at 6:28 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does your mom want her to live with you? Because if not, you really can't do anything. If your mom is okay with it, ask your mother to set up dual residence. Your home during the week and her mom's home on weekends. She can get some mail at your house and you can put one bill in her name, that you pay. She can still live at her mom's house but it would be helpful if you allowed her to spend a few nights a month with the child that she has raised, both for her and the child, and to look more authentic for the school. Have your mom enroll your niece in school to save hassle. Some schools don't care but the district that I am in is very precious. They send the police by to do home visits if you don't fill out the paperwork in time. It's ridiculous.
posted by myselfasme at 6:30 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

My son and his wife had guardianship of her minor brother for a while. His Mom participated willingly in the process, so the legal stuff was easy (She was unable to care for him). For the most part, you need some legal status because schools and health care providers can not share information with you otherwise. Some will anyway, but it's really better not to rely on it. It's important that your lawyer know family law; you don't want to pay for research time. Many people who are poor care for the kids of their relatives so Legal Aid will have expertise - get a referral from them. Some lawyers volunteer at Legal Aid, so will have expertise as well as a regular practice, if you are not eligible for legal aid services. Regardless of income, legal aid will give you information - great place to start.

Temporary Guardianship of Minor
A State Fact Sheet for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children
Quick Guide to Georgia Guardianshipsgaprobate.org Guardianship

Any chance your Mom could live with you for a short while to help get the process rolling? On preview, myselfasme's suggestion is def. worth investigating. See if the courts have any kind of kids' advocate who can help you through the process.

It's hard on kids to get bounced around not have a stable school/ family/ friend life, and adjust to a new home during adolescence. Be very clear about rules of the household, and be consistent. Structure and predictability are really welcome even if kids don't realize it, esp. kids who've been having a rocky time. If niece has interests, look for groups or classes - karate, horse riding, whatever. Continuity is comforting, plus it helps with making friends.

Do you and your partner have kids? If not, you will be launched into parenthood with an adolescent. Yeah, you used to be an adolescent, but you need help.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children
The library will have a good selection, and the reference librarian will help you find the best ones.

If you do have kids, then you are adding a partly-grown kid to the mix. Again with the library recommendation.

None of this is easy, but it's worth the effort, even if that isn't apparent.
posted by theora55 at 6:33 AM on April 15, 2015

Do they like the town where they're living now? If the only issue is that they can't afford to stay there, could you supplement your mom's income or pay for some of your niece's expenses? It sounds like she's been through a lot of home and school changes and I feel like, if things are going well, it might be worth trying to preserve the status quo. By having her move in with you, you'd certainly be increasing your expenses (food, clothes, activities, medical expenses, school supplies) so it could make sense to have her stay put and you pay for those things anyway.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2015

-Have called the school and left a message to see if it's possible to enroll her without guardianship.

-We do not have kids, and have kept for her up to a week at a time, but resources are welcome - it will be a completely new experience for all of us.

-we want to figure out what our options are before discussing it with my mom and my niece - naturally, we would only do it if they want us to. My mom would have full access to my niece and they could visit as much as they liked - we're not trying to remove any of that, just help out.

- there is no way my mom could live with us, even temporarily - in addition to there simply not being room, we have animals and she has severe asthma. She can stay in our house around a half hour at a time.

- we've looked at the option of simply supplementing my mom's income, since they are happy where they are - for multiple reasons, that's not something we're comfortable doing. My mom makes really poor money decisions, and while we're willing to help out my niece and take her in, we're not willing to subsidize my mom's lifestyle/poor decisions. (it's been a roller coaster over the past 7-10 years - we've tried multiple options to help my mom with money, and none of them have worked out well.)
posted by needlegrrl at 7:17 AM on April 15, 2015

We will talk to a lawyer, of course (any recommendations for Atlanta?)

Information about how to find a lawyer (including free and low-cost resources) is available at the MeFi Wiki Get A Lawyer page. It sounds like you would benefit from a consultation with a family law attorney who has guardianship experience.

we'd like to streamline this process as much as possible

Mediation may be a helpful process for this case, to bring the various parties together so these issues can be discussed in a private, nonadversarial setting. It can be important to have an attorney with you during a mediation session to protect your legal interests, and an attorney can tell you if your case seems appropriate for mediation.

My mom makes really poor money decisions

It sounds like your mom (especially if she has an SSI appeal pending) would benefit from a consultation with an attorney with SSI/SSDI experience, and your mom can ask an attorney about a 'representative payee,' who can help manage the monthly payments. If there is a way to stabilize your mom's income with Social Security benefits, this may make it easier for her to agree to a change in guardianship.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:56 AM on April 15, 2015

Rather than changing the guardianship, or supplementing your Mom's income, is there any way to up the options for schools your niece could go to and still live with your Mom? Are there any private schools near where you Mom lives now, or near your grandmother (if they moved back there), that might be willing to take her at reduced tuition based on need, or if you yourselves paid the tuition? Just a thought.
posted by gudrun at 8:10 AM on April 15, 2015

I notice you don't mention the niece's mom at all. Your mom has custody/guardianship, but has the mom formally and permanently surrendered her parental rights in court? If not, niece is technically in "kinship foster care" and mom (and/or you) may be eligible for a stipend (and other assistance) through your state's foster care system. (This would be true in my state, your state law may, of course, vary.)

we've looked at the option of simply supplementing my mom's income, since they are happy where they are

If housing is the main issue, another option (if you're able) would be to rent an apartment for them in the area they're in now (paying the landlord directly). This would solve the schools and housing issues in a way that sort of passively supplements her income. (This may cause issues with SSI, though.)

Hopefully you can make this work and can find an attorney to help!
posted by anastasiav at 8:21 AM on April 15, 2015

If you have the money to help but don't want to directly subsidize your mother, can you pay for your niece to go to boarding school?
posted by xo at 8:51 AM on April 15, 2015

In California, there is an option of using some combination to a Power of Attorney for a Minor Child and a Caregiver's Authorization. (described here) Obviously, you would want to consult with an attorney to your state plus to see if your mother as guardian has the power to give you power of attorney. This would keep your mother in place as her legal guardian. It looks like the Caregiver's Authorization does not even require the parents signature if you are a close relative. This might work especially well if your mother will still be involved in major issues like medical care.
posted by metahawk at 2:34 PM on April 15, 2015

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